The Big Picture Part 1: The winning formula

By: David Weiss

 

In May when the Mets were really struggling, I had an epiphany. The Mets are in trouble. I don’t mean that the Mets are losing so the time has come to jump on the bandwagon of panicking for this season only. They have been in trouble for a while but only now did I really see it as a huge problem.

This is part one of a series. In this part, I will give my interpretation of what all winning teams have in common.

Old
With Cabrera, Frazier and Gonzalez on the infield, the Mets season may have been doomed from the start.

If we look back over the last several years, we will see that teams who win consistently have certain characteristics:

  • A great young core of everyday players, who came up through the minors and were at least rookies with that team.
  • Young players who didn’t necessarily come up through the team’s minor league system but were acquired before they were stars.
  • A Starting rotation that includes several hired guns.
  • The core players stays healthy.
  • Guys over 30 who are solid players, but aren’t expected to be the keys to success.
  • Sustained success over several seasons.

Here is a breakdown of each team that caught my attention:

 

Houston Astros

This team is loaded with young stars. When the Astros won the 2017 World Series they did so with a core group led by Correa, Altuve, Gonzalez, Bregman and Springer. These guys had an average age of 25.4 years and are a talented bunch. They hit for power and average. Jake Marisnick was a high Marlins draft pick who wasn’t panning out. After batting .178 in 54 games for Miami, he was traded to Houston. Despite his poor offense, he played great defense and was very durable. By 2017, he put up an OPS of .815 and was a key piece to the team. As a team, they were able to avoid major injuries. Correa missed over a month after being hit by a pitch, but they avoided nagging injuries.

Astros
Correa, Altuve, Bregman and Springer lead a truly fantastic offense.

In the rotation, Morton, Fiers and McHugh were obscure pitchers before they got to the Lone Star state. Verlander was literally brought in for October. Keuchel and McCullers were the draft picks that really panned out well. Together these arms made up a strong rotation. Beltran and McCann were the grandpas of the team. They were acquired to fill in the gaps but were not the reason the team dominated.

The ‘Stros are clearly not a one and done champion. In 2015 they were very close to going to the ALCS. This year they are excellent again. Currently they have a record of 50-26 and are projected to win over 100 games again by fangraphs.

 

LA Dodgers

The genius of the Dodgers is that despite winning many division titles in a row, they know when to let players go and bring up youngsters. They are anything but stagnant. The 2013 team had eight 30+ year old players who played in over 110 games. The 2017 team was led by Seager (23), Bellinger (21), Puig (26) and Barnes (27). All played their rookie year in LA and all had WAR’s that were 2.6 or higher. They had 6 guys who were 28 or younger and play in 129 games or more. When Adrian Gonzalez got injured, it led to Bellinger getting the playing time to win the rookie of the year award.

Dodgers
Seager (age 23) and Bellinger (age 21) led the 2017 Dodgers to within a game of being World Champs.

Chris Taylor was swiped in an under the radar trade in 2016. Grandal was acquired when the Padres stupidly went all in on Matt Kemp. Both Taylor and Grandal played big roles on the 2017 NL championship team and are having solid seasons. Turner could go into this category except for the fact that he was 29 when he joined LA.

On the hill, Hill and McCarthy were both the elder statesmen of the 2017 staff. Maeda and Ryu were the foreign imports that really pitched well. Darvish was basically the Verlander of the Dodgers and his October was memorable too… but for all the wrong reasons. The only true-blue Dodger in the rotation is Kershaw. Utley and Forsythe held the fort at second base. They were adequate and with Turner, they were the only guys in their 30’s to play a lot. To sum it up, LA is a well-run franchise. They have won 5 division titles in a row. Need I say more.

 

Chicago Cubs

The 2016 Champions had four key players 24 or younger in Bryant, Russell, Baez and Contreras. Schwarber is currently just 25 and played a big role on each team since he was a rookie in 2015 except for 2016 when he was injured. The core of Rizzo, Bryant, Russell and Baez have all been spared major injuries. What makes Chicago unique is that know when it is time to part ways with your potential stars like Soler and Castro.

Cubs
Never afraid of using veteran pitchers, the Cubs have had great pitching since 2015.

The Cubbies know when to bring in outside help. If you think that trading Grandal to LA was bad, the Padres gave traded Rizzo for Cashner. Ouch. The Cubs also got La Stella, who has generally been a solid role player when given the chance to contribute. When it comes to pitching, the Cubs love to bring in outsiders. Lester, Lackey, Arrieta and Hammel were all brought in to help them win in 2016. Since then they have acquired Quintana, Chatwood and Darvish. Hendricks is the one exception to this rule.

All winning teams pick a guy to round out the lineup and Zobrist fits this role perfectly. He was a good player brought in to be a veteran on a team filled with youth. Heyward was brought in to be a star, but amazingly enough, the Cubs have been winning despite his underperformance. All in all, they have made the postseason three years in a row and are projected to make it four this year.

 

Cleveland Indians

It seems like every year they add an impact rookie. Santana came in 2010. Kipnis and Chisenhall in 2011. Ramirez in 2013. Lindor in 2015. Naquin and Zimmer in 2016. Thanks to this core they nearly won it all in 2016, when they had four guys play in 152 games or more. Catcher Yan Gomes was acquired from Toronto and has been an impact player when healthy.

Tribe
Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez are to of the most exciting teammates in the game.

Unlike the other teams on this list, the Indians have gone far with home grown pitching. Except for Bauer, most of them began in Cleveland. Kluber, Clevinger, Carrasco, Tomlin and Salazar help Cleveland break the rule of bringing in hired guns. They probably have the best homegrown staff in a generation.

The Tribe doesn’t bring in many big bats but when they do, they make it count. Napoli in 2016 and Bruce in 2017 were each hired to mash the ball. Both were successful. At this rate, Cleveland will win their third division title in a row. Last year they looked phenomenal when they won over 100 games and there is no reason for the Indians not to stay strong for years to come.

 

Kansas City Royals

After decades of misery, KC finally put together an excellent team. Led by their high first-round picks of Gordon, Moustakas and Hosmer the Royals lost and then won a World Series. Toss in Perez and they had a well-built team of guys who came up playing their brand of ball. In 2014 and 2015 Perez, Hosmer, Escobar, Moustakas and Cain all played at least 130 games.

Royals
The Royals made the most of their draft picks, and knew when to trade key stars.

When the Brewers were in win-now mode in 2011, they acquired Zack Greike from KC. Two of the players they gave up were Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain. It was a great trade for both teams. Milwaukee won the division before losing the NLCS in six games. KC would use these two youngsters in key roles both times they went to the fall classic. Their pitchers in those years were Volquez, Guthrie, Young, Cueto, Shields and Vargas. All were brought on board at different times and pitched extremely well. Duffy and Ventura were the guys who came up through the minors.

Zobrist (am I getting déjà vu?) and Morales were each picked up just when the Royals needed that extra pop in the lineup to go over the top. While they won the AL pennant in back-to-back years, they didn’t really have sustained success. KC did however win 86 games in 2013, 81 in 2016 and 80 last year so they were at least decent for a while. Considering that they were horrendous for decades, their experiment was a success.

 

Not only have these teams been in the World Series over the past few seasons, but all have had multiple successful seasons. Some are still great so the book isn’t closed on these teams.

These aren’t the only teams to use this formula and have sustained success. The Giants won the 2014 World Series with a team very different than the one in 2010. They used Belt, Panik and Crawford to go along with Posey and Sandoval. The Nationals have won the division title four out of the last six years. This is very much because they know when to move away from the older guys and go with the youngsters.  Taylor, Turner and Difo are now all everyday players. Soto just got called up about a month ago to add to the youth core. The Red Sox have the killer B’s. Bogaerts, Betts, Bradley and Benintendi lead one of the most potent lineups in the game. Devers is very good and young (but his name doesn’t contain a B). The Yankees and Braves have also both caught on to this and play a whole lot of youngsters nightly.

Nats
Washington is hoping that Soto’s bat can replace Harper’s.

While this formula doesn’t work for every team (see Cincinnati Reds), it clearly is the right direction. The game is getting faster and the older guys who lose a split second on their swings just can’t keep up. In addition, older players get injured more often. The bottom line is that the winning teams aren’t identical but they all have the same idea. In part two I will go through the Mets formula since Alderson took over.

Click here for part two.

(David Weiss is a lifelong Mets fan. He has lived in Israel since 2008 and runs the Facebook page Jewish Mets Fans.)

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